Generational Dialogues

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I was — am — a huge fan of Tony Judt, the historian who wrote the magnificent overview-history of Europe after WWII, Postwaras well as the debate pamphlet Ill Fares the Land, both of which I highly recommend. He sadly got ALS and died three years ago.

Today I happened to stumble on two things by him which you might find interesting.

The first is the lecture “What Is Living And What Is Dead In Social Democracy” which is the foundation o
f what became Ill Fares The Land. You can hear it here:

This is the last lecture Judt gave. He was wheelchair-bound and needed the help of a machine to breathe, so his breathing is shallow and forced, but his voice despite the obstacles between it and the microphone remains extraordinarily engaged and engaging.

The second thing is an absolutely remarkable op-ed Judt wrote in the New York Times with his then 15-year old son, Daniel Judt (who is, as far as I can tell, now an intern at The Nation). It’s a kind of dialogue between not just them, but them as representatives of their generations. The tired leftist of ’68, whose political ambitions seemed to have been invested in projects that were being lost. The young man who had invested hope in Barack Obama and ended up being disappointed when his administration turned out to be less than transformational.

Though there isn’t a lot of specificity to the piece, the dialogue is about the feelings of optimism and cynicism and the generational sense of politics as a way of life, how each generation approaches things in a different way. The younger Judt actually gets most of the best lines (though I do love the older man’s barb that “I am a little queasy about all this generation talk”). He points out that his generation has had a reignited sense of politics, but are facing insurmountable obstacles which they still have no way around, which have to be passed:

We have no choice but to care enough. The sacrifices you foresee are nothing compared to the ones we will be forced to make if we sit back and wait. Most important, we don’t have the luxury of fighting for a long time.

Look, we are powerless and will be for a while to come. In fact, we are in the worst possible position: we are old enough to understand better than you what has to be done, but far too young to do it. All we can do is say it.

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